Search This Blog

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Piece Previews - help your orchestra learn faster and sound amazing

In my Suzuki training I learned how to introduce new pieces.  Suzuki teachers pick out sections of the music called 'previews' which contain the difficult passages, tricky bowings, special fingerings, etc.  I like to introduce new pieces to my orchestra in the same way and I feel it helps the orchestra master technique and be more ready to tackle the music.  There are a few different ways to implement the idea of 'previews' in a string orchestra setting:

1.  Rhythm training using measures from the music

Recently my Advanced orchestra was learning a piece in 2/4 time with some tricky counting.  I made these slides in PowerPoint and we drilled the rhythms as part of our warm-up for a couple weeks.  Students quickly mastered the rhythms and it was much easier for them to learn the new music.

2.  Let the entire class learn the same difficult section.  

If there is one section that has a hard passage, we learn it together as an orchestra.  In December students learned 'Appalachian Snowfall' arranged by Bob Phillips.  There was a tricky passage in the violin part that needed lots of practice, so we learned it as an orchestra and all students had to pass it off in a playing test.  The cello/bass parts in that piece are a little boring, so they welcomed the chance to learn a more difficult part.

Bushwhacker Stomp by Keith Sharp is a piece I often teach my beginners at the end of the year.  All students learn the melody to help the violin section with intonation on the high E string notes:

3.  Create a practice assignment that drills technique and tricky measures.  

When selecting music for my orchestras to play I try to pick pieces that will help students develop techniques we are learning in class.  I usually select different music every year, but there is one piece that I do every year in my 2nd year intermediate class.  It's called 'The Code' by Alan Silva.  Students love learning to play 'The Code' because it sounds cool.  It has been worth it to have students learn this piece because they get really good at extensions and high 3's in the key of A major.   As students came back to school after the new year, they had a practice assignment to drill techniques and tricky measures from our music.  After just one week of rehearsing these 'previews' and having students practice them at home, our piece is sounding so much better!

All of these previews were created with Finale, but before I had that program I used PrintMusic and it worked great.  I import the music into Microsoft Publisher to add the text.


  1. Hi...I've been visiting your blog for about 4 years now on and off...I actually found it through a band colleague of mine that taught strings for a few years. Anywhoo...I always wondered how you got your worksheets/flash cards to look so professional and now I know. THANK YOU. I just have to experiment and become more comfortable with it. Are you able to "draw" on Power Point or did you have to have a special program/app to be able to do the rhythm cards? I'm going to the Michigan state music convention next weekend which will be having a tech portion so I'm hoping to get some questions answered there but will take any suggestions you have.
    Would you also fill me in a little more about "Rhythm Cat"? I think this would be cool for all my classes (5th-8th grade classes) to practice rhythms as suggested and my kids all know I'm a crazy cat Purr-fect!! Didn't mean to take all your time...thanks for your help.

  2. When creating your Power Point Slides, where are the original rhythm images coming from? I like that they are straight rhythms without any rhythm lines or staff involved.